My preview (or previews, actually) of Metropolis Street Racer is perhaps my favorite of the pieces I've written for this site. Thus, I went to E3 excited to see the game, and I was really excited when I found out that it was playable. I'm a little less excited now. The game is a visual tour de force, but as I was playing it I wondered if I was somehow missing something. The controls and track design are a bit frustrating, and I wonder if they'll be tuned up between now and the game's release.
Before I start picking things apart, let me be very clear: the backgrounds in Metropolis are amazing. The hype about Bizarre Creations' massive research effort looks to be true. During the countdown before a race, you're treated to several sweeping pans across a virtual cityscape that are downright breathtaking. I've never been to San Francisco, so I can't say this was a perfect replication, but it sure looked like a real city to me. Once you're racing, you go past all kinds of different buildings: warehouses, offices, apartments, and others, all of which look great. You can also see occasional moving objects in the sky, like a cloud of floating balloons or a passing flight of fighter jets. There weren't many other moving objects on the road, though; the one other vehicle I can remember seeing was a parked school bus.
The thing is, it was a bit hard to pay attention to the backgrounds because I was always crashing into the corners. Metropolis has an irritating tendency to give you a long straightaway, let you build up a good head of steam, and then spring a ninety-degree turn on you. If you're lucky, you'll slide sideways into the wall and stop, but if you're unlucky you'll crash head-on and stop, and so far as I could tell there's no reverse gear to quickly extricate yourself, like in Crazy Taxi. You're warned by signs, like in Sega Rally 2, but the turns themselves are still often a shock because the jersey barriers that block off the streets fade in only when you're relatively close to them. The cars also don't seem to turn very responsively. Maybe I was just picking up bad habits from Rally and expecting my little Renault roadster to drift like a tuned-up four-wheel-drive Impreza. Perhaps I should have tried to summon up my Gran Turismo cornering discipline. Still, I think that if you want to make drivers to corner at low speeds, give us a downtown course with lots of turns. If you're going to let us drive like Jehu down the straights, put us on the freeway or a seaside boulevard like Tacoma's Ruston Way where we don't necessarily have to cut our speed by fifty or sixty percent to make a turn properly.
I wasn't able to acquire any information on how long until the American version of Metropolis shows up. The European version is of course a launch title, and it looks like the game is on its way to meeting that goal. Three cars were playable, a red Ford Mustang (1999 model, damn), a blue Renault Spider (my personal favorite), and an orange Mazda Miata (thanks for the assist, Fernando), and you could also scroll through a number of other unavailable cars in the selection screen, like the Rover MGF (I didn't know Rover made those; you learn something new every day). There were two course selections: Fisherman's Wharf during the day and the same area at night. The course was actually a bit surprising; I was expecting to drive the Shibuya, Tokyo course, since that's where all the screenshots to date have come from. I suppose Sega wanted to present American players with a more familiar setting. Anyway, I'm a bit less stoked for MSR than I once was, but it still shows promise if the track design and control issues are resolved, or alternatively if I learn how to drive the game properly. The setting and the nifty selection of cars definitely set it apart from the pack.
The demo shown was the Time Trial mode from Classic Arcade; the team was reluctant to discuss Gang Battle, though it seems there will be some story elements involved. The showcase was nothing short of amazing. The level of realism shown was almost indescribable. Bizarre showed the Shibuya level in both day and night modes - you should pray this gets a US release. At night, buildings are lit from the inside, trains pass over your head that may as well be real trains, balloons float up from the road in such an authentic manner, it was simply shocking. The Alpha Spider rattled around Tokyo with the driver responding to the cars movements, lighting effects were seen that literally blew the assembled crowd away; this is pre-alpha, and the Bizarre team was nervous about showing the game. They needn't have been. The mind boggles at what the finished game will look like. Fireworks exploded in the sky as the car raced round corners, handbraking as it went; headlights shone with beams visible in exactly the same way they would if you were driving the car yourself. The brake calipers visibly grab the brake discs, which glow after rough treatment. Jaws dropped. Journalists slavered. Bizarre and Sega won the day. No question.
Sega and Bizarre Creations recently unveiled full details of the game at a European press conference held in Liverpool, England. The game will be based around three cities: London, San Francisco and Tokyo. The cities are split up into three separate areas, each covering an estimated two square miles. Metropolis Street Racer has been built using a real-time four-wheel physics engine. Over 32,000 photos were taken to replicate each of the cities represented in the game. A total of 30 hours of video footage was taken for the game, with three minutes of footage taking around an hour to walk through.
Gameplay will be split into two different modes: Classic Arcade and Gang Battle. The Classic Arcade mode will then be split up into Championship, Time Attack and Head to Head sub-modes. Gang Battle will be based around a series of events and races and a four-player split-screen mode is currently being discussed. The racer will include 20 licensed cars, and eight hidden ones. Licensed cars will come from companies including Mercedes, TVR, Mazda,, Renault, Rover, Mitsubishi and Jenson.
Although Bizarre was cautious of revealing specific car types set to feature in MSR, models seen first-hand in the demo consisted of Ford Mustang, Honda NSX, Alfa Romeo Spider, Fiat Barchetta, and Toyota Celica.
Every car engine in the game has been recorded to authentically replicate the models they are based on. During actual gameplay, players will be able to hear birds, planes and even trains, all panning round the action in full 3D. The throttle and breaking system of each car is fully analogue, and break discs on the cars will begin to blaze after extended use. Real-time weather effects display swaying trees and bushes in high detail. The usual conditions such as snow, wind, fog, and rain will accompany the gameplay.
The game's soundtrack will include an extensive range of musical genres. These are Big Beat, Drum'n'Bass, Garage, Euro-house, Progressive Rock, R'n'B and even Jazz Funk.
Various sources at the press conference hinted that the game will be released in the US, although it is not known if it will be available at the US Dreamcast launch in September.
AM News: Bizarre Shows Metropolis
Straight from the Metropolis Street Racer press conference, NGO brings you all the reasons why you're about to be seriously impressed by Bizarre Creations.
March 31, 1999
Sega moved into a new phase in the Dreamcast hype ramp-up yesterday, with the unveiling of the purely gorgeous Bizarre Creations-created Metropolis Street Racer to the European press. It's almost certain both the US and Japan will see this released at some point in the future - you should hope so. Here's the full scoop.
The thirty "most influential" European video games journalists were invited to Liverpool, England, for Sega Europe to showcase its first formally announced 1.5 party developer launch title. After a short address from the CEO of the company, JF Cecillon, the group was taken to the offices of Bizarre Creations to get some idea of what exactly Sega was making such a noise about. What we saw yesterday was nothing short of stunning.
MSR is a city-based racer that could easily snatch the realism crown in one highly attractive swoop. For all the game facts and statistics, read the "Full Metropolis Details" story after this one. This article is instead a first-hand account of what was seen yesterday.
As an introduction, Bizarre Creations took us through the incredible amount of research that has made the project possible. "We've taken over 32,000 photographs of London, San Francisco and Tokyo," informed Bizarre's Sarah Dixon. "On top of that, we've shot over 30 hours of video, to get the correct textures we needed. Photos are still coming in from Japan." It appears the developer was, and still is, a little apprehensive about the scale of what it's trying to achieve. "It is daunting," Dixon continued. "Always. Our artists had to be so organized. The whole idea behind a project of this size is to make those familiar with the places we're depicting think they're watching a video of the cities they know. We've learnt so much about producing this style of game."
In case 32,000 photos isn't enough in terms of research, maps and guidebooks were brought into the fray. "We start off using guidebooks," Dixon informed. "We want people to see prominent landmarks in the cities, things they're most likely to know. The Trafalgar area of the London tracks is probably the most advanced; Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco too. We used topological data maps for accurate height data - our pure focus is realism. All of the hills in San Francisco are there as they are in real-life. Overhead aerial maps have been a big help. We look at the maps, look at the videos we've shot, then we're able to put in the street furniture. If there's a hotdog stand on a street corner of one of the areas in San Francisco, it'll be in the game. For example, since we started the area construction, we've found out a railway is being built on one of the levels - we're in touch with the engineers and the designers to make sure it's included into the game in exactly the correct way."
Detailed? You bet. Next we were shown the developer's art department. Jon Dougdale, one of senior artist, showed off his wares: "This in one of the circuits," he said stoically, dropping jaws with a two square-mile utterly authentic map of Shibuya in Tokyo on his PC. "We use the top-down maps and the photos for reference; in-game, the buildings are 256x256." He then showed us in-game shots, including a red Mini Cooper. The crowd groaned here - the difference between the reference photos and the in-game footage was honestly negligible.
Moving on to the cars, Dougdale's colleague Mark Akester gave us the details. "We start with the wire frames and add as much texture as we can from the photos," he informed. "There are around 1,000 polygons per car, and we have four levels of detail for the four different camera views. The highlight model sits on top of the detail model." He span an Alpha Spider through 360 degrees. Amigos, this looked tasty. "We'll have 12 cars on the screens at once," he continued. "We've tried to stick to the manufacturer's preferred colors." Possibly for the best, you won't find super top-end cars in MSR. "We didn't want to go over the top as far as the cars were concerned," added Producer, Brian Woodhouse. "You won't find a Ferrari in there. Our physics model is so realistic, it'd basically just trounce the competition."
With physics on our mind, we moved on to Lead Coder, Matt Birch. He got the de-bug code up and running to demonstrate the four shock absorbers working separately. The suspension model, to put it bluntly, was a smooth as a baby's backside. "The engines, the wheelbase, even the tyre measurements are based on the manufacturers' stats," said Birch. "Our physics model is spot on. The Alpha Spider handles completely authentically, as do the rest of the cars. I have a Lotus Elan. I put the stats into the code and the result was exactly the same 0-60 time as in real-life. There's still a great deal to add, though. By the time it's finished, even the tyre marks on the road will appear in accordance to the way you lay them down - if you skid in a straight line, marks will show up in exactly the place the tread is grooved on the tyre. If you slide sideways, the marks will be smudged."
The question of realism stifling gameplay was raised. "Tiny adjustments are made over the top of the physics to make it more fun to play," he continued. "We don't alter the physics, we alter the way you interact with the car. How real can it be before you go out and buy yourself a real car?
"Loads of effects are yet to be added. For example, all the smoke in the game is done in code. If you look through a great cloud of it, you probably won't be able to see anything, but if you look sideways through it a thinner section, you will. We'll make even the smallest effects as realistic as possible, such as balloons, birds, boxes and the like."
Just how technically advanced is the work on MRS compared to the F1 games made by Bizarre? "We started from scratch," Birch answered. "Compared to F1, it's a world away. We're planning to use the VMS, though we haven't decided how yet. We're just trying to do what we wanted to do; we've been supported 100 percent by Sega."
There's only one word to describe what we saw at Bizzare's small offices - impressive. The small team of 27 members is literally oozing with talent, and Sega knows it. On to the demo...
The demo shown was the Time Trial mode from Classic Arcade; the team was reluctant to discuss Gang Battle, though it seems there will be some story elements involved. The showcase was nothing short of amazing. The level of realism shown was almost indescribable. Bizarre showed the Shibuya level in both day and night modes - you should pray this gets a US release. At night, buildings are lit from the inside, trains pass over your head that may as well be real trains, balloons float up from the road in such an authentic manner, it was simply shocking. The Alpha Spider rattled around Tokyo with the driver responding to the cars movements, lighting effects were seen that literally blew the assembled crowd away.
This is pre-alpha, and the Bizarre team was nervous about showing the game. They needn't have been. The mind boggles at what the finished game will look like. Fireworks exploded in the sky as the car raced round corners, handbraking as it went; headlights shone with beams visible in exactly the same way they would if you were driving the car yourself. The brake calipers visibly grab the brake discs, which glow after rough treatment. Jaws dropped. Journalists slavered. Bizarre and Sega won the day. No question.
With the first viewing of MSR we saw a new, driven, highly professional Sega, a company hell-bent on pushing at least $300 million into a marketing push to promote a console worldwide, with games that are utterly deserving of success. That such a small company as Bizarre can take on such a large project and succeed to this degree is truly astonishing. The question of Dreamcast failing in the wake of PlayStation 2 just got a lot tougher to answer. "We'll have the most powerful machine on the US and European market," said Mark Hartley, Chief Product Development Manager for Sega Europe. "We have great games and a great console. We're very confident the consumer will see it that way too."
In the words of Sega Europe CEO, JF Cecillon: "We have great content, great games. We're focused on great content, on strong creative talent. That's why we've brought you to Liverpool; to show you the real world, real talent. Europe is prolific in terms of new talent. There are outstanding games here." There certainly are, and to call Bizarre "real talent" is like calling grass green. Word from later on in the bar suggested this will be a definite US release. We sincerely hope so...